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Progressive Web Apps for iOS

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While it is now possible to use Progressive Web Apps on the iOS platform, Apple has been less than enthusiastic about bringing full Progressive Web App (PWA) functionality that users on other platforms enjoy to iOS.

For a long time, iOS resisted supporting Progressive Web Apps, but as the popularity of these web apps grew, Apple had no choice but to support PWAs.

How do Progressive Web Apps on iOS differ from other platforms? If your organization wants to build a Progressive Web App, what limitations will it face from iOS?

These are essential questions to ask as you consider the best approach to app development for your business. This post will answer those questions for you, but first, we’ll quickly review the basics of Progressive Web Apps in case you are unfamiliar with the concept.

What Is a Progressive Web App? 

As web traffic increasingly becomes more mobile-centric, websites begin taking on many qualities commonly seen in mobile apps.

A Progressive Web App is a website that acts like a mobile app with offline functionality, push notifications, and other standard features.

Progressive Web Apps are built with the same technologies most websites are created with, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, but they shed common browser elements to look more like a native app.

The benefits of this development approach should be apparent. Instead of developing native apps with specialized languages and frameworks, developers can build a Progressive Web App that looks like a native app using basic web technologies.

Instead of building two native apps to reach Android and iOS users, organizations can build a single Progressive Web App that can be downloaded on any mobile device or platform.

Not only does this significantly reduce development time and costs, but it also helps organizations avoid stringent reviews from app stores.

Progressive Web Apps and iOS: A Brief History 

The term Progressive Web App would not be coined until 2015, and despite Apple’s reluctance to embrace Progressive Web Apps, you might be surprised to learn that the first high-profile person to share the benefits of using the web standard for app development was Steve Jobs in 2007 at an iPhone launch event.

In his 2007 speech, Jobs encouraged developers to build PWAs since they easily integrated with the iPhone. However, a few months after this speech, the Apple App Store was launched, and Apple’s stance toward web apps shifted tremendously.

In 2015, a developer at Google officially introduced the PWA development standard. However, Apple would not embrace PWAs until 2018, and even then, it did not fully. Instead, Apple continues to prioritize native apps.

The Limitations of PWAs on iOS 

If you want to build a PWA for iOS, there will be limitations you won’t face on other platforms. Apple has yet to fully embrace web platform apps, but in 2023, developers will get more capabilities already available on Android and Windows platforms.

The main limitations of PWAs on iOS include the following:

  • Web App Manifest
  • Lack of access to native components
  • Weak service workers
  • Storage access

Web App Manifest 

The Web Application Manifest is a file that makes the PWA look like a mobile app. On other platforms, this file enables developers to set custom app icons, disable the address bar, and download the app to the home screen.

iOS severely limits the capabilities of the Web Application Manifest. For example, iOS does not use the app icon specified in the manifest. In addition, if you want to create custom splash screens or enable standalone performance, you must write additional code.

Competing platforms allow all these elements to be specified in the Web Application Manifest without additional code.

Lack of Access to Native Components 

PWAs cannot access native iOS components like ARKit, Bluetooth, iMessage, FaceTime, etc., which limits PWAs and keeps them from offering dynamic services.

It will be hard to convince users to adopt web applications that cannot offer the fundamental experiences that mobile apps offer. In addition, iOS’s decision to limit PWA access to native components means fewer organizations will be interested in building PWAs for iOS.

Android offers PWA developers far greater access to native components and apps. Apple likes to maintain strict control over its ecosystem. There is a strict App Store quality test apps must pass before they can even get listed on the App Store.

By limiting the abilities of PWAs, Apple can maintain greater control over its platform.

Weak Service Workers   

Service workers are responsible for push notifications, background sync, and offline capabilities. Unfortunately, iOS limits the ability of service workers to provide these services to PWAs. Without these services, it is hard to provide a great app experience to users.

There is a little bit of good news for PWA developers. With iOS 16.4, PWAs will be able to send push notifications. This is an example of Apple gradually embracing PWAs. These apps are still not as capable on iOS, but they are getting closer to the performance offered on Android.

Storage Access 

iOS drastically limits PWAs’ access to phone storage. As a result, PWAs cannot use as much storage as they want. Currently, PWAs can access up to 50 MB of storage. This is a minuscule amount of storage.

If you have a large application, you must build a native iOS app or cross-platform application instead of using the basic web platform technologies to build your app.

Final Thoughts 

Apple is slowly shifting its stance on PWAs. However, the truth is that PWAs on Android are more capable than on iOS. This is because Apple likes to have greater control over its mobile platform. They have argued that this control enables them to deliver the highest quality User Experience.

PWAs are a great development option for businesses because they use basic web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and they are cross-platform by nature. However, until Apple takes a friendlier stance towards PWAs, organizations might be hesitant to build PWAs for the platform.

If you want to learn more about PWA development, contact an experienced app development partner like Koombea.